Yes you CAN sell ice to Eskimos – Part III: Our Advanced Needs
This three part blog series introduces a novel classification of innate user needs, aka ‘the basic ways we fight for happiness and progress (through consumption)’. Part I of the blog recapped the well known concept that market segmentation is not about demographics, but about seizing an unoccupied space in the mind and heart of the consumer. Part II of the blog introduced my proposed categorization of eight innate user needs, and detailed the first four under the ‘Primal’ subheading. Part III of this blog describes the last four needs under the ‘Advanced’ subheading, which in many ways, counterbalance our ‘Primal’ needs.
Ideas that Matter
Ideas that matter fill one or more of the innate needs I describe below, i.e. impart a clear value proposition or deep meaning in the mind but mostly the heart of customers that ultimately add to their happiness (and we can only hope, human progress).
The Innate Consumer Needs:
Let’s define the last four innate needs, the Advanced Needs along with examples of products and companies that cater to them.
The need for empowerment stems from our innate need as humans to be lean and mean (consumption) machines; To expend less energy (usually time and money) to acquire and experience something than we derive from its basic utility.
Practically speaking, empowerment goods and services are usually the ‘good enough’ of something that already existed, but was either unattainable or not worth the effort. An empowerment good and service is thus the simpler, cheaper, more convenient form of what was once a superpower (a luxurious novelty). The coffee and detergent pod revolution proved once again that we shouldn’t underestimate human laziness.
The exact opposite of an empowerment invention would be one of the hilarious Rube Goldberg machines. But you can indeed try to take a perfectly good empowerment product like a bar of soap, and make it a superpower again by adding a ‘miracle’ wrinkle remover or…bring back the ‘soap on a rope’!
God bless the thousands of empowerment organizations – likely the largest creators of jobs through their ‘democratization’ approach. Examples include Amazon, SouthWest, Toyota, Square, Massive Online Open Courses, mobile supply/demand matchers such as Uber and San Diego’s House Call, monthly product re-suppliers such as Hello Flo & Dollar Shave Club, and all the web-based, B2C & B2B process automation companies.
If the need for ‘Association’ is about feeling part of something greater than ourselves, the counter need, ‘Aspiration’ is about our own self improvement – our hopes and dreams and especially our identity: how we see ourselves and how we want others to see ourselves.
Obvious aspirational products and services include luxury goods (Louis Vuitton), wine (most, except for Yellow Tail, which belongs in empowerment), sporting attire & clothing (Nike) and education (Y-Combinator, Harvard).
As per the examples above, there are plenty of ‘Aspirational’ organizations in product categories where you are selling the ‘brand’ more than the substance. But in almost every product category, there is someone trying to take the aspirational slot in the consumer’s mind, Apple being case in point in Consumer Electronics (O c’mon.. you don’t think so? You don’t believe that Steve Jobs was essentially a tech-fashionista? Black turtle-neck didn’t convince you?)
If the need for ‘Protection’ is about REALITY, ‘Escapism’ is about AVOIDING REALITY – a good thing when it helps us cope with stress or take our mind off of things to help with our creativity. We’ve all been there, swaying back and forth along the reality, escape-from-reality continuum – especially those of us with kids! “Honey, look how cute the kids look when they’re sleeping. Ahhh..Aren’t they adorable? Now let’s run and watch that movie before they wake up!”
Obvious escape products include games, piña-coladas and television – and some other things that might have been meant for empowerment or aspiration, like smart phones and exercise regimes (The Zumba phenom went from just another way to exercise to emphasizing fun instead “Ditch the workout, join the party!”).
Escapism organizations include the entire media and entertainment industry, the hotel & tourism industry, bars, barber shops, nail salons, and yes, Starbucks (the 3rd place (besides home and work)). Escapism has a very important role in human happiness and these organizations shouldn’t be treated as glib – if we don’t recharge out batteries, perhaps everything else is meaningless.
If the need for ‘Revenge’ is about hurting someone, the need for ‘Empathy’ is about helping someone. Truth be told, most of our ‘empathy’ emanates from a feeling of guilt – and maybe guilt is a good thing in disguise, the hangover of a ridiculously lucky life.
The blatantly obvious Emphathy/Guilt product is charity, including philantro-capitalism, for us in the venturing world. It includes a lot of ‘make up’ gifts as well between parents and children, husbands and wives – thrive ice cream and flower industries, thrive!
Empathy organizations include the entire philanthropic and gift industries. Certain movies also seem to cater to this need, although I like the ‘Revenge’ movie genre myself – Gladiator –”And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next”!
Conclusion of Selling Ice to Eskimos
We buy or use things because they make us happy – nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with fulfilling that.
When nobly ‘pushing’ a product, be careful to get too bogged down with testing hypothesis and stats (which may be confirming your bias), only caring about whether you’re getting some traction to show supporters and investors > Try to understand the deep reasons why your product is being liked, but more importantly, how it could be liked even more (Think how Zumba went from exercise to fun and PayPall went from the ridiculous Palm Pilot P2P beaming use case to Ebay domination)!
Pay special attention to whom else may be occupying that rational but mostly emotional mind space that you’re implicitly selling into – Find a unique space among the continuum of needs portrayed above, or frankly, you may be playing the entrepreneurial or innovation game, but you’re not playing strategically.